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FFT: Job Classes, "Antipyretic" for mithrigil.
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ovo_lexa wrote in ff_exchange
Title: Antipyretic
For: mithrigil
Medium: Earwax Fic.
Request(s): FFT: "Fear and loathing with job classes." Take that as you will.
Fandom(s): Final Fantasy Tactics
Characters/Pairings: Agrias, Ramza, Mustadio, Beowulf, Alma, Reis, Lavian. Beowulf/Reis.
Rating/Warnings: PG-13.
Feedback: Yes, please.
Spoilers: Endgame.
Word Count: 2266
Summary: There are two ways of getting ahead: the slow, safe way that takes a lifetime to master and the fast, dangerous way that takes others’ lives.


The bartender was growing used to her presence. She wasn’t the one taking the jobs – or she didn’t think she was – but the woman was beginning to pay her due attention. There were advantages to being in one place for more than two days.

Why stop here? She wondered quietly. Maybe aloud – the bartender was making an effort at cleaning a particular glass, but staring at her strangely from the corner of her eye. It only made sense... they were heretics – all of them – someone had to notice, eventually. Keep moving, keep your head down, keep out of sight… but some days, she itched to call the light of judgement down on them – every last one – and see who was left standing.

Holy Knight, indeed.

“Don’t worry,” she assured the poor woman, “We should be on our way soon.”

A man dropped onto the bench beside her, uncomfortably close. It was a fleeting feeling, gone before she met his eyes – hello, handsome.

Hush.

“Where’ve you been?” the man asked, worry lacing his voice. His undyed clothes were stained with the same grime that covered his face, smudged here and there around the eyes. “And... what are you doing here?”

She always had a thing for the wiry types. Maybe she could convince Ramza to let them stay in town a little longer after all, if only long enough to wipe that sad, peasant’s innocence off his face-...

Be quiet.

“Agrias?” He knew her... knew her name. How could he know her name? She didn’t even know her name. “Agrias, talk to me, tell me what happened.” Relief and panic mingled under the same blanket of quiet desperation. He pressed one hand to the side of her face, far too comfortable for her liking. “Come on, we need you, please.”

“Mustadio,” she murmured; she was remembering now, bits and pieces at least. A patchwork of events, none of them fit together properly. “Where the hell is Ramza?”

“Uh, I don’t...” abruptly, he changed the subject. “How many, um... how much have you... had?”

“None,” she scoffed. “I don’t drink. You know I don-”

Mustadio pulled back to eye her critically, then shifted his gaze to the bar, where an elegant crystal wineglass – rather out of place, in the dim, dusty evening full of ale and – half-empty, half-full of Leá Monde.

“Oh.”

Orlandu.

Across the bar, the waitress surreptitiously held up three fingers. Not surreptitiously enough for Celia not to notice, even through the haze. ... And Rad, always was in a hurry to get under the table.

The problem wasn’t at all that she was drunk; it was that she was full of spirits. Pressing her hand to her face, struggling to regain control, to regain self, she hissed, “damn you all.”

Mustadio frowned, but did not appear overtly shocked. When she shoved him away, intent on walking back to the inn – or hovel or underpass or... whatever hiding-hole they were locked down in tonight – on her own feet, he wiped his eyes on his sleeve.

~-~-~


It was always strange to find herself somewhere – anywhere, everywhere, always – thinking another person’s thoughts, indulging another woman’s vices, or living another man’s sins. And those they had collected, that had collected others themselves, faded but pressing, leading back to the beginning of time. That was what it felt like, anyway – she never did understand if that was how it was in truth, or if she had finally snapped.

Orlandu promised to tell her once. That was before they went shoulder-to-shoulder against the Bringer of Order. The night they kept vigil in the necropolis, the night the spirits of the dead were starting to stir, he promised to tell her. But he never did; he never got the chance. She treasured the memory, seen through his eyes.

Those still awake at this ungodly hour stared when she entered the room, some more openly than others. But her gaze was drawn to Alma... On the other side of the room, Ramza’s sister was hunched under one of the best blankets they had, staring into space, and Agrias’ first impulse was to comfort her, to draw her close and never let her go.

“Agrias.” Beowulf cut her off en route, herding her to one side – to his corner of the encampment. Reis looked up from her stitchwork as they approached, and quickly left their pallet, opting to hover around the cooking fire instead. “Where are we to go from here?”

A prickling sensation crawled its way up Agrias’ spine. “What?”

“We’ve been here far too long,” he reminded her gently, hiding his desperation well that she could see through the cracks, “What did Ramza say? Are we not to move on?”

“No, you’re right,” she agreed, “We have to go. We...”

Mustadio appeared through the broken arch of the door, breaking her line of thought. She hadn’t noticed him following her from the bar, covering her tracks. Lavian drifted from her dark corner and they whispered to one another. Have to tell her later, she’ll love to hear-

Beowulf was staring at her, waiting patiently for an answer. She gave it without pause.

“Tonight. We leave now.”

Now...?” he sounded surprised, worried, and for good reason. She still wasn’t thinking straight, she realized, as she took stock of their situation. They were run ragged – exhausted, and many were already on the brink of sleep at last, if not already snoring. Across the cook fire, Reis was cradled her swollen belly, nervously awaiting judgement.

“Tomorrow,” Agrias corrected, shaking her head. The urgency she felt gave way to a lullaby in the back of her mind that merely grew louder the harder she tried to focus. “We... leave tomorrow. We must.”

“Are you absolutely certain?” He was uneasy now, more so than when she first stepped through the door. Agrias didn’t blame him; she didn’t blame any of them. They had good reason not to trust her.

“Yes,” she said, asserting her place as a stand-in for their absent leader... and absent friend. Oddly enough, for that moment at least, she felt up to the part. “We leave tomorrow at first light. Please excuse me, my friend.”

His gauntleted hand fell heavy on her shoulder as she turned away. “Ramza?”

Agrias shrugged him off. “Shall find us when he can.”

Again, she made her way towards Ramza’s cot, to sit beside Alma, forsooth to comfort her... but she found, there in the dark, nothing to say. Nothing of worth.

“He’s gone, isn’t he?” Alma asked at length, her voice painfully faint. Her face was full of hope and grief, and she studied intricately the pattern of her hands under the faded gold of the blanket. Agrias could only shake her head.

“No. Of course he’s not.”

“Then where is he?” Alma pleaded. “Why hasn’t he come back with you?”

“I...” don’t remember, didn’t see, “I’m certain he will return. He would never leave you.”

Slipping her arm around the younger woman – and emboldened that Alma did not pull away, but curled into the embrace – Agrias hummed under her breath, rocking her gently. The melody was new to her, and each strain pulled from a spindle none her own, but it seemed fitting enough.


~-~-~



The princess drifted to sleep, at long last, yet when Agrias laid her down upon the cot – so unfit for the crown – and tucked the blanket around her, she started, for the girl was not Ovelia at all. Agrias brushed the hair back from Alma’s face, and drew back.

Ovelia. Safer, perhaps, but bound again within the walls of a castle. Ramza would return, and then they would speak on the subject. Perhaps he had guidance to offer, or could still the haunting shadow of a doubt.


It was early yet, tempered by a hint of morning rain, when Agrias climbed the stairs to the burned out living quarters of the stone abode. From the collapsed wall, one could see far – the road leading into the city, the sprawling countryside ravaged by the war, even the fires of a tower twinkling in the distance.

It made the perfect lookout.

Her eye was drawn to the man camped out on an overturned crate, scarcely dozing with his back to the inner wall. He squinted at her approach, tearing his attention away from the distant road.

“How long has it been since last you slept?”

Mustadio snorted in reply. By day they moved, secretly in ones and twos, under the eyes of their pursuit, avoiding that which came out of the dark. By night, they fell restless, huddled together like the vagrants they were. He pulled the night watch, more oft than not... The unbeliever he was, or had become – she had never known for certain – he could see best through the dark.

“If you have need-”

“No.” Sitting up straight, he smiled faintly at her, matching her scowl. “No. But thanks, though.”

“As you wish.” She leaned on the wall beside his crate, and stared out over the abandoned village. There were others here, homeless or in hiding from the King’s Law, but none of them so precarious as they.

“I hate this. The Church left us alone for so long...” Years, Agrias counted, until the hunt began... until Ramza reappeared in her life, pulling her into action, into saving those they could under the cover of night, into reawakening dormant heroes. Unlike them, he had never rested, never settled. Her musing didn’t hold the answer Mustadio’s question. “Why now?”

Agrias shrugged, venturing a quiet guess. “Olan.”

Mustadio hugged his rifle close, staring into the night. In the silence, she tried in vain to sort her thoughts. She had never felt this lost before, save in the city of the dead. It started the morning she left with Ramza – he to route off the enemy, she to follow. “I’m coming with you,” she sees herself, determined, set in stone. “You can use my help.” In his skin, she feels warm, grateful, pained...

Abruptly, Mustadio stood, breaking her reflection. Raising his rifle, he peered through the magniglass, and swiftly pulled back, out of sight. Looking between the figure in the distance and Agrias, he offered her his gun. Unaccustomed to the weapon, she held it carefully, emulating his gesture.

“It’s...” he struggled for the name, “her.”

“Balmafula,” Agrias whispered in agreement. Delita’s pawn drifted carelessly into the road, into plain sight, closely inspecting each in the line of houses that she passed.

“What’s she doing here?”

“She was here before,” Agrias said, “Ramza met with her when we...”

He smiles, taking sick pleasure in her frustration, her hopelessness. He feels sick within himself, even as she is ill at ease with how he moves now, familiar yet gone. Yet he breaks through, cries out, for the danger is upon them, and he shields her from the danger that is overtaken them, the trap that he has set, that he has sprung...

In return, she takes him into herself, almost unknowing, deeper than any of the others, and all those he had taken... family, friends, enemies, all clawing at her consciousness, and demanding love, vengeance, life...

One, familiar, hated...


“He betrayed us,” she whispered, stricken by the memory. Taken, tortured, bargained with, it wakes him up, he who never slept, from the dark of Ramza’s spirit. “As did I.”

Mustadio was staring at her now, frightened and rightly so. She had gone insane. He moved before her, beginning to speak words she never heard, for they ended in a gasp of pain. A bolt, aimed for her heart, flew out of the dim twilight to strike him in the shoulder. In the midst of her mind, of all the souls that melted into one another within her fractured psyche, Gafgarion laughed.

But she knew, now. She remembered, and Ramza was there, under her skin, adding his strength and courage to hers. She’s warning us.

While she lived and breathed, the lingering malignancy of the Dark Knight had failed.

“Go,” she ordered Mustadio, groping for a stone as they huddled together under the meager cover afforded them. Agrias had never felt herself much of a leader, but now it came to her naturally, like had holding a sword. “Get them out; I shall buy you the time you need.”

“No! You can’t-...” He grabbed for her arm, dissuading her not in the least. She met his eyes with a calm confidence, and he inched back. “Be careful. For the love of God, Agrias, be careful.”

“I will return,” she promised, although she did not know which of them spoke – the master or the subservient.

The moment she stood, she let the rock fly. It struck its mark square – a crossbowman, who had climbed high to reach them – sending him plummeting. In the same instant, Mustadio dashed for the stairs. Taking the more direct route, she drew her sword and scrambled over the remains of the wall, tumbling into the street, and into the open.

There, Agrias waited.

A short distance down the dusty street, Balmafula stood shocked. She mouthed words that Agrias could not see, and could not help but understand. In the vanishing night, the inquisition lurked, shadows in the morning fog, uncertain as only the unfaithful could be.

Had she lied – God forgive her – Agrias knew that no one would have her stone to mourn over. All the heroes, all the evil that dwelled within her soul would be laid to rest at long last. Perhaps it was for the best; for those who depended upon her would be that much safer.

---cut here---


Endnote: I learned you could pick up crystals (and skills) very early on, and would do whatever I could to thenceforth steal people's abilities by killing them and sitting on their corpses; I recall being incredibly annoyed when Gafgarion didn't give up the goods. XD

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Holy crap.

Uh.

My grubby meta-loving soul is rolling in this.

This is such a great, creepy take on the ability-stealing mechanics in FFT. I love the disorientation here, the air of desperation, how eventually Agrias finally clicks and centers and understands. This was disturbing and creepy and sad and tense and basically I LOVED IT.

Lovely way to open the round! Well done!

PS: haha, I remember planning what order to kill people in, because I forfeit the crystal of the last one dead. Like, uh, seeing someone with an awesome ability and I would be all my pretty YOU are dying first yessss >.>

Oh God yes this.

I love the disconnect, the fracturing of Agrias's thoughts, and the way it pieces together and then reveals at the end, and TEN THOUSAND POINTS TO YOUR HOUSE for the meta on the crystals and how that works when you absorb someone's abilities/soul.

You win so much.

You had me at the pun on "drunk" and "full of spirits".

Thank you so much for an amazing, evocative, and genuinely frightening take on this prompt. I knew that if I threw something like this out there I'd have a fifty-fifty chance of comedy or meta, and I'm so thrilled that the meta you came up with was this! I love how hazy and hard to describe it is in the beginning, and how it also references my other prompt on the FFT/VS connection, and Agrias' voice all told. Smartly and sophisticatedly done!



Recced this, because it is awesome and meta-tastic =D

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